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Calwell and Simonds' careers had much in common, being sharers in each other's fate. Both born in the 1890s, their careers ran curiously in parallel, each with early brilliance, with many obstacles in the interim, to finish in the same year, 1967, basically unfulfilled, sad even tragic figures at the end. They were also opposites in some ways, one Melbourne, the other Sydney, one in politics, the other in the church. From 1900 NSW had an electorally successful ALP with high Catholic involvement, but a Catholic Church lagging under Archbishop Kelly. In contrast in Victoria the ALP branch under radical socialist control was anti-Catholic and unelectable, whereas the independently minded Catholic Church under Archbishops Carr and Mannix was thriving.

Early Calwell

By 1920 at the age of 24 Calwell was secretary of the Irish Ireland League of Victoria, secretary of the Melbourne branch of the ALP and president of the State Service Clerical Association, a precocious rise displaying many talents. He was educated at St Joseph's CBC, North Melbourne, and was to become the most prominent of an influential cohort, encouraged by Mannix, of politicians and senior clergy educated at that college. He reciprocated by admiring Mannix, to whom he was close, almost inordinately. But Calwell also experienced many setbacks which dogged his long career. At six he almost died from diphtheria, an ailment which left him with a distinctive throaty voice. His mother died in 1910 when he was sixteen. In 1921 he married Margaret Murphy, but his wife died a short time later, another great personal tragedy. He later married Elizabeth Marren, the social editor of the Catholic paper The Tribune.

Another setback of longer duration awaited him. His flourishing career in the Labor movement led him to expect by the mid 1920s that he would soon inherit the Federal seat of Melbourne, held by the aged Dr William Maloney whose career in two parliaments had already stretched for almost (35) years (1). Maloney was a political light-weight who wasn't cabinet material. But Maloney hung on to his seat, never resigning until summoned by 'the Angel of Death' in 1940, aged 86. The longevity of Maloney held up Calwell's career for two decades (1920-1940), just as Mannix's longevity was to hold up Simonds' career for two decades (1943-1963). This long wait stalled Calwell's political career, frustrating his ambitions. Calwell didn't try to ease Maloney out, an early sign of a certain inability to seize the moment. Calwell eventually assumed the Melbourne seat in 1940, too recent a member to be in Curtin's first cabinet in 1941. Impatient and frustrated, Calwell became an irritant on minor issues to Curtin, who ridiculed him as 'the hero of a hundred sham fights'. Calwell revealed here a tendency to impulsive, ill-considered outbursts on minor issues which damaged himself more than his targets; on the other hand he failed to act when major issues loomed.

Early Simonds

Simonds had an equally outstanding early career. Born in 1890 (six years before Calwell) Justin Simonds was ordained in 1912. During Cardinal Moran's funeral in 1911, Simonds, participating as an acolyte, accidentally slipped into the open grave; as he was hauled out the Master of Ceremonies admonished him, saying: 'That grave's only for the Cardinal!' This turned out to be not just a warning but a prophecy. By 1921 he was Professor of Sacred Scripture at Springwood Seminary and Dean of Manly Seminary in Sydney. From 1928 to 1930 he studied at Louvain Catholic University in Belgium, gaining a doctorate on the Church fathers in only two years. While there he became an enthusiast for the Catholic Action ideals of the JOCist (YCW) movement, of which Louvain was a stronghold, interests he furthered while Rector at Springwood on his return. By the time he was appointed Archbishop of Hobart in 1937, Simonds was considered Australia's leading clerical expert on Catholic Action matters. At his inauguration in Hobart Simonds showed he was ahead of the pack in seeing the totalitarian ideologies of Fascism and Communism not as left and right opposites, but as similar, in that they divinized the state as all powerful. Simonds' public statements, in contrast to Calwell's, were always calm, well considered, and issued only when necessary. They were temperamental opposites.

Catholic Action and the Movement

When the Catholic Action organization was set up in early 1938 in Melbourne by the Catholic bishops, its employees Maher and Santamaria worked under the supervision of Simonds, the Episcopal Vicar in charge of Catholic Action, who was at the time far more knowledgeable on these matters than Maher or the 23-year-old Santamaria. In the month Catholic Action was being founded in January 1938, Simonds went into print, in The Advocate stating that its aim was 'beneficent social action...outside and above political parties', the key distinction, on which the whole Movement episode foundered. This statement marked a high point in Simonds' career. Santamaria in The Advocate next month offered his unique definition of Catholic Action as: 'the determination of Australian Catholic unionists to fight the Communist aggression against the industrial movement', in other words, the Movement, no secrecy here. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Calwell was one of the first to organize groups to combat the pro-Communist left, not only in unions, as is well known, but in the ALP itself, as he and others were having their own political pre-selections and careers threatened by far left entrism. So Calwell was at this stage an initiator and supporter of Grouper strategies.

Panico's Plan

From the 1943 Calwell and Simonds were both living in Melbourne. How did Simonds come to end up in unfriendly Melbourne not Sydney, his natural home in the church? For an answer we have to turn to the activities of the Apostolic Delegate in Australia from 1935 to 1948, Archbishop Giovanni Panico. (2) Panico's job as a diplomat was to conduct relations with the Australian government on behalf of the Vatican, not to run the Australian church. Panico, energetic and relatively young, and with a twelve year posting, took it upon himself to radically reorganize the Australian church and so become its de facto leader, a role to which Papal Nuncios before or since have not aspired. In 1920 the Vatican had decreed that native clergy were to eventually replace foreign born missionaries. This ruling gave Panico his opening. He could diminish the dominant influence of Irish-born bishops, and appoint his own, less experienced, local choices in their place. (3) Panico seems to have harboured some animus against the outstanding figure of Mannix, using the preference for native bishops as his excuse to downgrade him and Melbourne.

Panico's basic strategy was to isolate Mannix by removing his deputies, on whom as an 80-year-old man he relied to administer his archdiocese. The next most important clerics in Melbourne on whom Mannix relied were Mons. Lonergan, Dr Matthew Beovich and Dr Patrick Lyons, all of whom were got out of the way by promotion to bishoprics out of Victoria. Mannix had to fill the deputy's job again and again, and was running out of talent. So the inadequate Fr Arthur Fox, not trained overseas nor even a homegrown thinker, was appointed in 1944 to the major administrative posts.

The other side of the coin was Sydney, lagging after Archbishop Kelly's long and uninspiring reign. In order that Australia should have its own first native born archbishop, in 1937 Simonds was given Hobart, where he was underused and out of the mainstream. A Sydney priest, Norman Thomas Gilroy, had been appointed Bishop of Port Augusta in 1934 only eleven years after his ordination, with much experience of the inner workings of the church but with virtually no pastoral experience. Panico manoeuvred the Irish Archbishop Sheehan out of the Sydney deputy post, and appointed Gilroy as Coadjutor; Gilroy succeeded Kelly on the latter's death in 1940. (Sheehan, who continued to publish intelligent articles on social questions, may have been a better choice for Sydney. Santamaria had long admired Sheehan--his rational defence of his faith was based on Sheehan's Apologetics. Santamaria's fatal falling out with Sydney might not have transpired if Sheehan, not Gilroy, had been in charge there.) The overall effect of Panico's moves was to reduce Mannix's and Melbourne's leadership of the Australian church, and so in comparison to increase the importance of the previously underperforming Sydney.

Panico's biggest coup was still to come. Simonds had been in Hobart a reigning archbishop with full faculties. In the depths of the war in 1942 Panico summoned him from Hobart to Sydney, to tell him he was to be appointed Mannix's coadjutor in Melbourne. Mannix was not to be informed, as he had a right to be. Simonds, a ruling archbishop, was thus demoted to be an assistant in another archdiocese, another unusual appointment and another Vatican/Panico attempt to corral Mannix. Mannix was eighty by this stage, and the Vatican may have presumed the Angel of Death' might soon relieve it of this turbulent priest. But for the next twenty years God--and Mannix -had other ideas. Another reason for Simonds' transfer to Melbourne might have been for Simonds, the Episcopal Vicar for Catholic Action, to keep a close watch on the controversial Movement activities already going on in the Catholic Action office in Melbourne.

On Simonds' arrival in Melbourne, Mannix gave him an enormous reception at Cathedral Hall, he gave him the pro-Cathedral St Mary's in West Melbourne, he gave him a priest as full-time secretary and he provided him with a car, and then didn't consult him on crucial issues nor give him administrative power over the next two decades. The Advocate article on Simonds' arrival ended by saying that 'the burden of office, which he

[Mannix] has borne for so long, will be lightened by one so eminently and manifestly suited to assist him'. It was not to be. Panico's strategy was so crude and transparent that Mannix, a consummate tactician, had no trouble swatting it away. Nonetheless Mannix does not come out well of this sidelining of Simonds, although the problem was not something of Simonds' nor Mannix's doing. Simonds had to put up with Fox, his inferior in rank and talent, doing the day-to-day running of the archdiocese instead of him. Panico's deep plan was not just, as has been assumed, to replace Irish bishops with local ones (that was merely his rationalization), but to replace independently minded bishops with dutiful Romanized ones. (4)

It would have been far wiser and simpler for Panico, instead of all this complex manoeuvring, to have made Simonds Archbishop of Sydney after Kelly. Sydney required a strong and imaginative leader after Kelly had run it down. Like Mannix and Carr, Simonds was, as a seminary head training young priests, a wide ranging thinker writing on theological, philosophical and current social issues, the outstanding NSW priest of his generation. Simonds was far more qualified for the position than Gilroy, but was overqualified for both his Hobart and Melbourne posts. The messy situation created by Panico in Australia's two premier sees was an underlying factor contributing to the Melbourne-Sydney fallout in events leading up to the split.

A few months after Simonds arrived as second in charge in Melbourne in 1943, Arthur Calwell was promoted to the Federal Cabinet. Both now began, after their stellar starts, new and difficult careers which would run in tandem. Both were now based in the North Melbourne area. In 1943 Calwell as Minister for Information supplied Santamaria with scarce newsprint paper for Freedom, Santamaria's Movement journal, a sign that Calwell was on side with the Movement at this stage. Calwell's career peak came with his handling of the Immigration portfolio. One of Panico's last moves was to have Gilroy, with a short six-year term as leader and no discernable achievements, appointed a cardinal in 1946, instead of Mannix, an accomplished incumbent for almost 30 years. The prophecy uttered at Moran's funeral was being fulfilled--the Sydney Cardinal's role was not for Simonds. Arthur Calwell, devoted to Mannix and a senior government minister, caused a stir by saying Mannix should have received the honour - another characteristic Calwell outburst, impulsive and self-defeating. Compare Simonds, with equal frustrations, but remaining quiet as a mouse. Calwell was 'in your face'--he projected his personality, whereas Simonds contrived to efface his.

At this stage Calwell should have been bothering, not with this peripheral issue, but with handling the Movement's attempted takeover of the ALP, which now threated his career, just as earlier Communist tactics had. In 1948/9 Calwell and Keneally in Melbourne and Mulvihill and Ormonde in Sydney were rolled from their state executive posts, a sign of Movement domination in both states. Calwell was now anti-Movement and so lost favour with Mannix. Both Calwell and Simonds were now (late 1940s) opposed to the Movement, which they considered was damaging church and party, but were unwilling to move against it by announcing its existence; though opponents they too kept it secret, and as a result became incapacitated by their inaction. Calwell had attacked the 'anti-Communist obsession' of the Catholic right at the party's 1948 state conference, but it was in an internal forum. At the inauguration of the Eris O'Brien in January 1954 as Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn, Simonds similarly spoke out against those who 'involve the Church in underground political intrigue', admonishing 'her misguided children [who] seek to capture political power in her name', but only the few in the know picked up this oblique reference. Calwell now (late 1940s) had a window of opportunity to explain to the public the problem: we called in Catholic Action to save the Labor movement from the pro-Communist left, but, that battle having been won, Catholic Action is now trying to take over us. Calwell needed to name and shame the Movement publicly, and so seize the initiative by setting up the centre as the dominant majority against the left and right splinter groups. In the vacuum Evatt seized the initiative some years later, making his centre left narrative the dominant one. For the centre, led by Calwell, to fail to clearly state and act on the problem, was fatal for church and state, not to mention his own career. (5)

Early 1950s

But Calwell at this crucial juncture was incapacitated by the death of his only son Arthur Andrew to leukaemia at the age of eleven in 1948, and by a terrible coincidence Kennelly lost his son Neil aged 13 in a car accident in 1952, at the time the Movement rolled him in his state seat. These further personal tragedies, coming in the midst of bruising internal political struggles, embittered both even more against Santamaria, with his large family, and the Movement. With Chifley's death in 1951, Dr Evatt was elected leader of the Federal Labor Party; Calwell was elected deputy leader. So by the early 1950s both Calwell and Simonds were now deputy leaders of their factionalized and fracturing organizations, both at the height of their personal powers but without real power. Both had leaders, Evatt and Mannix, with whom they were ideologically at odds.

In the run up to the split, Panico's moves meant the wrong people were in the wrong places at the wrong time when the split erupted. Consider this: in anti-Movement Sydney a pro-Movement Melbourne cleric Lyons was supervising the Movement there, whereas in pro-Movement Melbourne an anti-Movement Sydney cleric Simonds was second in charge--what a mess! Calwell, his resolution corroded by the turmoil, lost another great chance when, at a Caucus meeting after Evatt publicly dumped on the Movement, he did not seek a spill motion against Evatt's severely weakened leadership, which would likely have succeeded. Both deputies in state and church, Calwell and Simonds, had failed to press their case until it was too late. But it was harder for Simonds, who operated in a quasi-monarchical system, to challenge the king than it was for Calwell in politics, where leadership challenges are par for the course.

Late 1950s

Contrast Calwell and Simonds in the two decades 1943 to 1963: Calwell was flat out, running hard just to keep up, as a cabinet Minister, as an opponent of the Movement, as deputy leader destabilized by the split, and then leader, whereas Simonds had little to do except an endless round of Confirmations on Sundays. Poor Simonds, the best twenty years of his life were wasted as coadjutor with no agreed role. Simonds at one stage decided to examine how the many religious orders in Melbourne were faring. When he reported to Mannix that all was well, Mannix replied that that came from leaving them alone, an unsympathetic response. Mannix was ninety when the split occurred, and needed an auxiliary freed from administrative burdens to help cope with the ongoing crises in the wake of that disaster. So Mons. Fox was promoted to Bishop in 1957, a further insult to the coadjutor Archbishop Simonds as Fox, his junior, was given the role of archdiocesan spokesman, a role for which, with his charmless personality, he was not suited. The 1957 Vatican decision dissociating itself from the Movement's modus operandi proved Simonds and Calwell right, but sadly too late to help either.

Early 1960s

Calwell became leader of the Federal ALP in 1960 at the age of 64. He had his big chance in 1961, the credit squeeze election, where Menzies scraped home by one seat. Once again Lady Luck had deserted him. It was a devastating setback, as he never again came close to being Prime Minister. Calwell looked too out of date to appeal to voters, and with the DLP incubus still round his neck. Although in private a charming and accomplished person, he seemed to undergo a personality change when mounting a political platform, ranting on in a hoarse nasal voice. Before the 1963 Federal election Calwell stated the ALP could not win except for the intervention of the Angel of Death', an anticipation of Mannix's demise. Perhaps he was remembering his long wait to succeed to Dr Maloney's seat. This demeaning reference to his former close friend did him damage among Catholic voters. By this stage three of the four federal Labor leaders (Calwell, Nick McKenna and Kennelly) were inner suburban Melbourne Catholics, remarkably as Catholic factional antics in the Victorian branch had wrecked the party--the fourth leader was Gough Whitlam. Santamaria and McManus, from the same CBC North stable, were also very prominent, as were the North CBC bishops Lyons, Beovich and Stewart, and Darlinghurst's Monsignor Tom Wallace.

The coadjutor Archbishop Simonds, who was attending the Vatican Council when Mannix died in 1963, returned to automatically succeed him. Simonds had become a seminarian in 1906, so he was now in his 57th year in the church. Becoming the Melbourne Catholic leader at the age of 73 was too late, like Calwell, to enjoy the fruit of his decades of hard work and commitment. When Simonds finally came into possession of the Melbourne See in 1963, he was old, infirm and with poor sight, which occasioned the then current pun: 'Long time, no see/See'. A vault in the floor of the cathedral's western transept had been opened up to receive Mannix's coffin. At the burial the TV cameras showed Bishop Fox grasping the new incumbent Simonds, who had limited sight at this stage, firmly by his vestments as the two shuffled slowly across the floor towards the vault, lest Simonds fall in once again.

A rundown archdiocese was handed to a man who was himself run down. Simonds had the job of running a complex and divided organization ahead of him, just as Calwell had. But he did not have the time nor health to make the substantial changes needed after an organizational hiatus stretching over decades. Simonds had the administrative head, Mons. Moran, promoted to bishop in 1964. This had the effect of sidelining Bishop Fox until he was put out to pasture as Bishop of Sale.

Late 1960s

Calwell was awarded a papal knighthood in 1964. This may be viewed as a consolation prize for missing out on greater honours in public life. (6) Strangely in the large literature on Simonds and Calwell, I cannot find reference to any relationship nor connection between them, though they lived near each other for a quarter of a century. Calwell was defeated for the third time by Menzies in 1966 at a federal election largely fought on opposing views of the Vietnam War. Calwell, having survived an assassination attempt in June 1966, another setback, stepped down as federal ALP leader in February 1967 and was replaced by Whitlam. It was a sad end to a long and ultimately unfulfilled career. It was the same year as Simonds relinquished his position, a final parallel in their careers. They were the last major victims of the split. Simonds to his credit had stoically accepted his twenty-year cross without demur, but Calwell was overtaken in his last years by bitterness at the fate dealt him. The parliamentary reporter Alan Reid recalled that when Calwell was federal leader he had a prie dieu installed in an anteroom attached to his office in Parliament House, to which he would repair, ostensibly to meditate, but actually to have little recrimination sessions against his enemies. In his memoir Calwell describes many of his fellow Catholics as 'fear-stricken, communist-hating, money-making, social-climbing, status-seeking, brainwashed, ghetto-minded people'. However Calwell and McManus became reconciled before the former's death. Both Calwell and McManus published valuable autobiographies after their retirement from public life. Calwell died in 1973, aged seventy seven, the same age as Simonds on his death. Calwell's daughter Mary Elizabeth has kept his memory alive through a number of publications defending his legacy. (7) Poor lonely Simonds had no one to defend his until Fr Max Vodola published his Simonds biography in 1997 in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation. (8)


(1) Dr Maloney had an intriguing background, being the illegitimate son of the wealthy squatter William 'Big' Clarke of Rupertswood, and a married Catholic woman Jane Maloney.

(2) In her biography Mcinnix, Brenda Niall devotes two chapters 'The Vatican Chess Game' and 'The Cardinal's Red Hat' to Panico's extensive manoeuvres.

(3) The ruling was hardly applicable to Australia. Unlike the situation when missionaries were sent to Asia or Africa, the cultural gap between Irish Catholic clergy and their predominantly Irish Catholic flock in Australia was minimal.

(4) Between the 1880s and the 1960s Sydney has three Roman trained hierarchs Moran, Kelly and Gilroy, in contrast to Melbourne's Carr, Mannix and Simonds. Whether Panico was under instructions from Rome to carry out his program, or was on a frolic of his own, is not clear. When Simonds met the powerful figure of Monsignor Montini (later Pope Paul VI) at the Vatican in 1946, he was surprised to hear of the high esteem Mannix was held in in Rome. The Panico-Mannix contretemps had been a cause for regret there, with Montini implying Mannix had been badly treated.

(5) History is full of examples where in a civil war, one side calls in a powerful outsider in order to retain independence, with the result that the outsider remains to dominate the situation, for example the English called into Ireland in the 12th century, and the Russians moving into Ukraine in the 17th century; both left only in the 20th century.

(6) Over 50 years Mannix appointed only a few monsignors, nor did he recommend Papal awards, both of which honours required approval from Rome. Gilroy soon appointed about 20 monsignori, which led Mannix to refer derisively to Sydney as 'the Purple East'.

(7) Mary Elizabeth Calwell, I Am Bound To Be True: The life and legacy of Arthur A Calwell 1897-1973, Mosaic Press, Preston Vic, 2012.

(8) Max Vodola, Simonds: A rewarding life, Catholic Education Office, Melbourne, 1997.

Patrick Morgan (*)

(*) Patrick Morgan has published Melbourne Before Mannix (Connor Court 2012), and has edited two volumes of the writings of B.A. Santamaria. The present article arises out of a book he is completing on Catholic leadership in Melbourne during the Mannix era.
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Author:Morgan, Patrick
Publication:Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2017

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